My Call of Duty

by Pastor Byron Sarracino

Guwaadzi Hauba! My name is Byron Sarracino. I am a Native American from the Laguna Pueblo of New Mexico. I grew up greatly admiring all those who have served in the Armed Forces. I knew that many Native Americans (including my father and uncles) had served this country with distinct honor and fulfilled their call of duty. Many have paid the ultimate sacrifice, but all who serve pay a price. Regardless of military branch—wartime or peace—I salute all who have served.

We have a saying on our reservation for times that require sacrifice and hardship: Hushchemeh. It is what my father told me before I boarded the plane for Navy bootcamp. It means to endure what­ever comes your way. To be strong. To take it like a man. I had just taken the military entrance exam and had shown an aptitude for the medical field, qualifying me to eventually become a Navy Corpsman (medic). Two years after my father had given me this charge to endure hardship, I found myself assigned to the 3rd Marine Division, Okinawa, Japan. This tour of duty would become a turning point in my life.

It was the winter season of 1981 when our regiment in Okinawa boarded a vessel headed for the DMZ (demilitarized zone) between South and North Korea, near the 38th parallel. We would be part of a combined exercise with the South Korean military. The political tensions were already high. About three weeks into the exercise, our commanders put us on high alert due to threats made by North Korea. But it was actually the environment that challenged us the most. The weather was harsh and cold. It seemed like the land itself defied our presence. But even in the face of hardship, our duty to endure was stronger than the obstacles. Hushchemeh.

Byron Medic Picture
Byron Camp in Korea
Byron Camp Korea 2

My being there was no accident—I was exactly where God wanted me to be. I was young—22 years old. My choices had been leading me down a dead-end road. I was searching for answers. So one evening after a long day in the field, I finally followed through on an invitation. A group of Marines were having nightly meetings in the chow hall tent. Instead of gathering to fire howitzers like they did during the day, they were gathering to study a Book—the Bible. What I heard that night changed my life. The men welcomed me to join them for a time of fellowship and encouragement. Later on, a Navy Chaplain named Rick Gates shared the amazing story of how Jesus came to this earth with a mission that required the ultimate sacrifice—death. The emphasis of the message was on the good news of the Gospel— proven by the resurrection of Jesus from the grave.

I had heard about Jesus growing up but never took Him seriously. To me, Jesus was for other people and not Native Americans. I thought of myself as a good person and hoped that if North Korea overran our position, I would go to heaven because I was serving bravely in the military. But deep down, I knew that the beliefs I had grown up with couldn’t save me. My knowledge of the Bible was next to nothing before I heard these verses:

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. –Romans 3:23

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. –Romans 6:23

In other words, good people don’t go to heaven—only forgiven people. Sin is any violation of God’s perfect standard. All of us have done something, thought something, or said something wrong. We deserve death, but God offers us eternal life as a gift that we could never earn. The Bible teaches that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary and lived a life without sin. Jesus lived 33 years here on earth, performing miracles and teaching about how to receive God’s gift of eternal life. Jesus willingly paid for every sin we could ever commit by shedding His blood on the cross. That was His mis­sion—His earthly tour of duty.

For He (God) hath made Him (Jesus) to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. –II Corinthians 5:21

The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. –Luke 9:22

Who will we trust for eternal, everlasting life? The Bible helps us to understand this question! Jesus offers forgiveness of sin to those who admit they are helpless sinners. Jesus offers us hope beyond the grave because He conquered the grave!

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. –John 3:16

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. –Romans 10:13

I joined the U.S. Navy looking for an adventure, but now I can see how God was guiding my path to the chow hall tent that winter night. The good news I heard changed the course of my life. I walked into that tent not feeling part of the group, but I walked out of the tent knowing that I was part of a family.

As I became a student of the Bible, I realized that I had grown up in the bondage of religion. Religion is man’s attempt to earn God’s favor. But what Jesus wants is a relationship with us! He laid down His life and took the death penalty for our sin. He endured the cross and boldly declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Hushchemeh.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. –John 15:13

Looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith; Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. –Hebrews 12:2

After seven years in the Navy, I believed that God had a new as­signment for me—to return to my reservation community with the message that had changed my life. I struggled with this new call of duty because I knew that many among my people believed differently. But God’s path always satisfies! Following Jesus is nev­er easy, but it is worth it.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. –I Peter 1:3

Being born again…by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. –I Peter 1:23

Maybe you are looking for answers today. Placing your faith in Jesus will completely change the course of your life. You can have a new life, a new direction, and a new eternal destination. You can experience the peace of knowing that you are right with your Creator. Christ’s resurrection proves God’s promises!

I am the Resurrection, and the Life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. –John 11:25

“Dear Creator God, Thank You for giving me this opportunity to hear and understand the simple message of the Gospel—that You sent Jesus to die for my sin. I believe and trust in Jesus as my Savior and Lord today. I believe that He defeated sin on the cross and defeated death by rising from the grave on the third day. I repent of my sin and ask You to help me live for You for the rest of my days. I know that Your path is always best for me. Give me the courage to follow You even during times of hardship.”

Byron and Tricia have been married for 32 years. They have five children, a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren. Byron is from the Pueblo of Laguna in New Mexico where he currently resides and serves as pastor in his local church. His story of growing up on the reservation and finding hope while serving in the Armed Forces is one of several stories touching lives through the Native Voices Project.

(Copyright Today’s Native 2023)

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